decorated initial 'I' n Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "Spring and Fall," the speaker addresses a young girl named Margaret and confronts her sadness over the dead leaves that accompany the changing of the seasons. Hopkins contrasts Margaret's "fresh thoughts" with the fact that as "her heart grows older," she will grieve for more serious things like the passing of her own life. The simple rhyme scheme the Hopkins employs is convincing in that it sounds like the kind of singsong voice one might use when speaking to a child. What is less convincing however is that an adult would broach such a morbid topic with an innocent child who is apparently already upset. The poem is the most direct and harsh in its tone in the last line of the rhyme triplet that marks the transition point of the poem's direction:

By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrows springs are the same.

The use of carefully controlled alliteration makes the stresses in this section of the poem stand out. The effect of this is the creation of a deliberately punctuated rhythm where the speaker uses these coupled words for emphasis in his lecture. The third line of the poem uses entirely monosyllabic, stressed words, which sets it apart entirely from the rest of the poem and creates a turning point in tone that leads to the speaker's eventual declaration to Margaret that the real source of her grief is not the death of the leaves but her awareness of her own unavoidable mortality.

Questions

1. Why is the speaker so detached from the child? Is it possible that the speaker never addressed the child at all?

2. Is there any indication of the speaker's gender and would this knowledge change the poem's effect?

3. What is the importance of and meaning behind the poem's title?


G. M. Hopkins Leading Questions

Last modified 17 November 2003